Our View: More cheers for overdraft fee protection

DKS Editors

In our “cheers and jeers” section on page 2 yesterday, we jeered costly overdraft charges at banks that often penalize cash-strapped college students. And we praised Chase Bank for announcing changes to its overdraft fees next year.

Today, we received more good news on that front.

The Federal Reserve announced new rules, which take effect next summer, that prohibit banks and other debit card issuers from including overdraft fees without cardholders’ permission.

The rules aim to reduce overdraft fees that are far more expensive than a small purchase such as a cup of coffee. (Surely, college students can relate after taking one Starbucks trip too many.) Banks and debit card issuers would be required to disclose fees in a simple, understandable way to elicit permission from the consumer, according to a New York Times article.

Meanwhile, Congress has been batting around similar policies for future legislation.

We’re putting our money (so to speak) behind the Federal Reserve’s new rules and any possible coming legislation from Congress. It’s no surprise that college students live on the edge financially while juggling tuition bills, living expenses – and beer money.

But overdraft fees punish the wise students who use debit cards – i.e. actual money in an account – rather than charging purchases on credit cards. When you’re living on maybe $300 for each pay period, it’s easy to hit the bottom quickly without realizing it.

And when that happens, you’re sunk. Consumers wind up paying, on average, $26.68 each time they overdraw their account, according to data from Moebs $ervices Inc., an economic research firm.

In that case, what’s the logic of using a debit card? The interest charged by using credit cards will be significantly less than the overdraft fees incurred. And therein lies the problem: The banks are profiting at the expense of consumers trying to be financially smart by avoiding credit.

In fact, the New York Times reported in September that banks are expected to gain $27 billion by overdraft fees this year – making more money covering overdrafts than they do on penalty fees from credit cards.

That’s why students should do their homework. The ideal consumer checks his or her bank account daily to monitor spending. But if you’re one of the millions of people who forget to check, protect yourself by at least evaluating your options. Chase Bank isn’t the only one changing its policies after receiving heat for its overdraft fees.

Find a bank with a reasonable policy. Read the fine print and stick to the plan. We’re already in enough debt as it is. We don’t need more piled on us at the hands of greedy banks that are cashing in on consumers’ small slipups.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater’s editorial board whose members are listed to the left.